Frequently Asked Questions About Lupus

What is lupus?

Lupus is an autoimmune disease. The immune system's job is to fight foreign substances in the body, such as germs and viruses. But in autoimmune diseases, the immune system attacks healthy tissues, not germs.

Lupus is a disease that can affect many parts of the body. Lupus can involve the joints, the skin, the kidneys, the lungs, the heart, and/or the brain. If you have lupus, it may affect several parts of your body. Usually, one person doesn't have all the possible symptoms.

What causes lupus?

We don't know what causes lupus. There is no cure, but in most cases lupus can be managed. Lupus sometimes seems to run in families, which suggests the disease may be hereditary. Having the genes isn't the whole story, though. The environment, sunlight, stress, and certain medicines may trigger symptoms in some people. Other people who have similar genetic backgrounds may not get signs or symptoms of the disease. Researchers are trying to find out why.

Are there different types of lupus?

The different types of lupus include:

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (eh-RITH-eh-muh-TOE-sus) is the most common form. The word "systemic" means that the disease can involve many parts of the body. SLE symptoms can be mild or serious.
  • Discoid lupus erythematosus mainly affects the skin. A red, circular rash may appear, or the skin on the face, scalp, or elsewhere may change color. Discoid lupus rashes often leave scars or light-colored patches of skin after it heals.
  • Drug-induced lupus is triggered by a certain drugs. It's like SLE, but symptoms are usually milder. Most of the time, the disease goes away when the medicine is stopped. More men develop drug-induced lupus because the drugs that cause it, hydralazine and procainamide, are used to treat heart conditions that are more common in men.

What are the signs and symptoms of lupus?

Lupus may be hard to diagnose. It's often mistaken for other diseases. For this reason, lupus has been called the "great imitator." The signs of lupus differ from person to person. Some people have just a few signs; others have more.

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Common symptoms of lupus are:

  • Red rash or color change on the face, often in the shape of a butterfly across the nose and cheeks
  • Painful or swollen joints
  • Unexplained fever
  • Chest pain during deep breathing
  • Swollen glands
  • Extreme fatigue (feeling tired all the time)
  • Unusual hair loss (mainly on the scalp)
  • Pale or purple fingers or toes from cold or stress
  • Sensitivity to the sun
  • Low blood count
  • Depression, trouble thinking, and/or memory problems

Other signs of lupus are mouth sores, unexplained seizures (convulsions), "seeing things" (hallucinations), repeated miscarriages, and kidney problems.

Will I get medicine for lupus?

Remember that each person with lupus has different symptoms. Treatment depends on the symptoms. The doctor may give you aspirin or a similar medicine to treat swollen joints and fever. Creams may be prescribed for a rash. For more serious problems, stronger medicines such as antimalaria drugs, corticosteroids, and chemotherapy drugs are used. Your doctor will choose a treatment based on your symptoms and needs.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on November 25, 2018

Sources

SOURCES: 

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) Information Clearinghouse, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Health Topics: "The Many Shades of Lupus." 

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